By Erica C. Barnett
For months now, the city of Burien has been locked in a stalemate over how to address a group of unsheltered people who remain in the city after repeated sweeps.
The latest plan: A potential contract with Kirkland mortgage broker Kristine Moreland, who offers private sweeps, at a cost of $515 per “camper,” or about $20,000 for a “40 person sweep,” through a new nonprofit called The More We Love, incorporated under the name The More Wee Love on April 10.
Moreland is a longtime volunteer at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, a religious charity that offers shelter, housing, and a Christian treatment program, and used to run a small nonprofit called the MORELove Project, which was dissolved in 2019. In interviews and public comments, Moreland has argued that homelessness is a drug problem, not a housing problem. This view is in conflict with a more widely accepted approach called “housing first,” which holds that people can’t achieve lasting recovery if their basic needs aren’t met.
Burien officials have been debating how to deal with encampment residents since March, when the council and King County Library System voted to evict a group of people living in tents outside the building that houses Burien City Hall and the local library branch. Ever since, the city has swept this group of several dozen unsheltered people from place to place; in June, King County offered the city a million dollars, a shelter location, and 35 Pallet shelters, but a four-member council majority voted to reject that offer in July, arguing it was a bad deal for the city.
Meanwhile, the same council majority has spent the better part of the summer proposing sites that are unavailable or uninhabitable—like a contaminated Port of Seattle property located right at the end of a SeaTac Airport runway.
On August 21, the council plans to take up a new proposal to criminalize unsheltered homelessness in the city, modeled on Bellevue’s near-total “camping ban.”
Last week, the council—at the request of Mayor Sofia Aragon—directed City Manager Adolfo Bailon to “explore a contract with Kristine Moreland” for homeless services, “given what we’ve seen in terms of outcomes.”
According to people who work with Burien’s homeless population, Moreland started showing up at encampments in April, shortly after the initial sweep at City Hall. By the next month, Moreland was pitching herself to Burien leaders as a more effective alternative to longstanding nonprofit groups like Let Everyone Advance with Dignity (LEAD) and REACH, which she described in an email to City Manager Adolfo Bailon and the council as “struggling” and “not…successful.”
“As you may know,” Moreland wrote to Bailon in May, “we have been monitoring the encampment downtown and have been working with a number of individuals living there to provide essential services such as food, shelter, and healthcare. While we have been successful in our efforts, we have also noticed that other resources have been struggling to address the needs of the encampment and its residents.”
“Our organization has worked with other local governments and non-profit organizations to provide compassionate and respectful assistance to those in need,” Moreland continued, “and we believe that we can help the city do the same.”
A majority of the council was apparently impressed by Moreland’s pitch. Last week, the council—at the request of Mayor Sofia Aragon—directed City Manager Adolfo Bailon to “explore a contract with Kristine Moreland” for homeless services, “given what we’ve seen in terms of outcomes.”
What outcomes was Aragon referring to? According to Bailon, who singled out Moreland’s group during a presentation on Burien’s homelessness efforts last week, Moreland got a group of unsheltered people to move on from a piece of vacant land near Burien Town Square, and then performed a similar feat when an encampment popped up outside a nearby Grocery Outlet, clearing around 20 tents from the property and “identifying housing for multiple people” at the site.
Moreland declined to speak to PubliCola, and did not respond to a list of detailed questions about her work. Speaking to conservative commentator Jason Rantz on August 11, said The More We Love had “successfully removed 27 people” from the site by guiding them into “truthful, real, intentional services”—like detox and treatment—and getting “real organizations in there that can do the real work and understand how to actually help these humans.”
It’s unclear how many people Moreland has actually referred to detox, treatment, or housing. But here are some facts. For people with little or no income, getting into detox and treatment can take weeks or months. King County offers only two detox facilities for people who can’t pay for private detox, including the 33-bed Recovery Place center in Seattle, so competition is high. Even after longer-term treatment, relapse is extremely common, especially for people who have nowhere to live; sober housing is an option for some, but beds are rare, and most facilities immediately evict people when they relapse.
Comparing her work favorably to longstanding nonprofits like the Downtown Emergency Service Center, Moreland told Rantz it was high time for the government to stop spending resources on people experiencing homelessness and let “the private sector step up”—including her own group, which she called one of “the most effective organizations I’ve seen yet.”
Aragon did not respond to a request for an interview. Bailon referred PubliCola’s questions to a spokesperson for the city, who said they had “no update to share on the nature or scope of any potential contract at this time as the directive was just issued this week during the City Council’s meeting.” The spokesperson then directed the rest of our questions to Moreland.
After one sweep, REACH case manager Stephanie Tidholm said, Moreland said she had housed 14 people, but Tidholm saw many of them in the relocated encampment a couple of weeks later. “We keep a spreadsheet of all our clients in Burien, and there is no way she housed 14 people.”
Moreland has told interviewers that her father struggled with addiction and was often homeless, an experience that has shaped her approach to people living unsheltered and struggling with addiction. “Nobody wants to be living in this hell, but the fact of the matter is it’s drug addiction, and that drags you down to the depths of despair,” Moreland recently told FOX 13 News. “So, it’s our job to lift them up and out of that.”
Talking to KIRO News before the Grocery Outlet sweep last last week, Moreland said she had already moved several people from the site into shelter or housing, and had “beds” available for at least another six people who remained at the location. “[We] do an intake at the beginning when they come into our care, Moreland explained. “Once we’ve done the intake, [and] we understand their full story, from there, we can connect them to services, and sometimes that looks like sending them home to their families. It just depends on what the greater story is.”
Jeff Rakow, the owner of the Grocery Outlet property, confirmed that he hired Moreland to remove the encampment, and called her work at the site “remarkable.”
“In response to widespread drug use and unsafe conditions for the unhoused and the community, coupled with the absence of urgent government action, we engaged The More We Love to connect those living in the encampment with human services,” getting people into “detox, shelter, back with family, or other solutions best suited to their individual needs.”
But people familiar with the homeless population in Burien say they continue to see the same people month after month, including people who have accepted Moreland’s housing and shelter offers and ended right back where they started. In one case, according to encampment volunteer Charles Schaefer, an encampment resident “told [volunteers] she transported him down to [a place in] Lacey,” about 50 miles south of Burien. Schaefer was head of the Burien Planning Commission until June, when the council majority ousted him for telling unsheltered people about a city-owned lot where they had a legal right to sleep.
The Lacey site was neither housing nor shelter, Schaefer said; “it was a detox or treatment facility, and that wasn’t what he was looking for or led to believe. So he took three buses to get back to Burien from down there,” Schaefer said. “He was lured with some offer that did not materialize.” PubliCola was unable to connect directly with this individual, but heard about his experience from Schaefer and two other sources.
In other cases, sources familiar with the homeless population in Burien say, Moreland’s clients received hotel beds for a few nights, then ended up back on the streets in Burien when the money for their rooms ran out. After an earlier sweep, REACH case manager Stephanie Tidholm said, Moreland claimed she had housed 14 people, but Tidholm saw many of them in the relocated encampment a couple of weeks later. “We keep a spreadsheet of all our clients in Burien, and there is no way she housed 14 people.”
During the recent Grocery Outlet sweep, longtime clients contacted Tidholm to tell her Moreland was offering housing and detox services to people who agreed to leave the site. “Nobody she was with knew where they were going,” Tidholm said. “Somebody told me they weren’t allowed to go [with her] because they weren’t going to do detox. They thought they had to leave no matter what.”
A video posted by Discovery Institute staffer Jonathan Choe, who was fired by KOMO News for promoting a rally held by the insurrectionist group the Proud Boys, features a seemingly impaired woman describing how grateful she is for Moreland’s work to secure “the hotel we’re going into.”
According to Tidholm and others familiar with the encampment, Moreland moved as many as 12 encampment residents to a hotel in Renton owned by the company REBLX. Although REBLX has partnered with the King County Regional Homelessness Authority and LEAD to provide rooms for their clients in the past, the company is not itself a service or shelter provider. Proposals to turn the whole 116-room hotel into a shelter for Burien residents fell flat, in part, because Renton law effectively prohibits new shelters in the city.
Already, according to sources familiar with the situation, REBLX has kicked out one of the former encampment residents Moreland placed there for violating the hotel’s code of conduct, which applies to anyone staying in its rooms. REBLX did not respond to a request for comment.
Since the sweep, Tidholm said she has only managed to reconnect with clients who didn’t go to Renton; the others, she said, “are now gone.”
The size of any potential contract between Moreland and the city of Burien remains unclear. A sample budget sent to council members by one of Moreland’s allies, Dan Mathews (of the commercial real estate company Kidder Mathews) suggested that King County could use the $1 million it proposed spending on shelter in Burien, plus additional funds the city could save by “redirecting resources away from current less effective solutions for the unhoused” to hire Moreland at an annual cost of $1.8 million.
In his pitch to Burien officials, Mathews credited Moreland with leading the team that swept a notorious Seattle encampment called the Jungle in 2016; building the city’s first “mobile shower truck”; and providing “outreach services for SPD Seattle’s Navigation team,” which removed encampments during the Jenny Durkan administration. The first two items appear to refer to Moreland’s work as a volunteer with UGM, which provided outreach before the city swept the Jungle. The city has not responded to questions about whether Moreland ever provided “services” for the Navigation Team, but the team itself was made up entirely of city employees. Mathews did not respond to a request for an interview.
Two incidents in Moreland’s past could raise concerns for the city as it considers signing a contract for her services. The first is her arrest for DUI last August, when Kirkland police pulled Moreland over for allegedly driving 52 mph in a 35 mph zone. (In an incident in 2021, an officer who pulled Moreland over for speeding said she drove “past my vehicle fast enough that it shook” and acted “inconvenienced” by the stop.)
When Moreland rolled down the window, according to the police report, her “eyes were watery and her speech was slurred,” and the “odor of intoxicants was emanating” from her breath. Moreland failed a field sobriety test and blew 0.133 on a blood alcohol breath test—significantly above the legal limit of 0.08 percent. Subsequent tests showed she had a blood alcohol level between 0.11 and 0.13 percent.
Between 2014 and 2016, according to the charges, Moreland facilitated “short-term, high-cost loans” with an unlicensed lender for at least four home buyers, then turned around and refinanced the loans through the company that employed her as a mortgage broker, pocketing the commission.
The court initially suspended Moreland’s license for 90 days. Instead of accepting the penalty, she contested the charges, arguing that the breath test was inadmissible. Her case is now on hold pending the results of an unrelated lawsuit challenging the alcohol testing method used by agencies across the state. In that case, lawyers for a man arrested for a DUI argued that because the state’s standard testing equipment truncates test results after the second decimal instead of rounding them up or down, it could indicate that a driver was more intoxicated than they actually were, resulting in unfair charges.
A drunk driving charge is not, in itself, disqualifying for a job working with people who are actively using drugs and alcohol; in fact, many drug and alcohol counselors get into the work because of their own personal experiences with addiction and recovery. Given the zero-tolerance views Moreland has expressed about drug and alcohol use among homeless people, though, her own recent alcohol-related arrest and decision to fight the charges instead of taking responsibility seem inconsistent with the kind of policies she advocates for others.
Another incident that could be relevant to the council’s contract deliberations took place in 2020, when the state Department of Financial Institutions found Moreland had violated the state Consumer Lending Act while working for the licensed mortgage company Caliber Home Loans. The charges included engaging in unfair or deceptive practices, aiding and abetting violations of of the law, and making false statements to the department, among other violations.
Between 2014 and 2016, according to the charges, Moreland facilitated “short-term, high-cost loans” with an unlicensed lender for at least four home buyers, then turned around and refinanced the loans through Caliber, pocketing the commission. Later, according to DFI documents, Moreland failed to report on her license renewal application that she was under investigation for violating state law, which is itself another violation.
Moreland could have lost her license over the charges or been permanently barred from practice. Instead, the department agreed to a consent order in 2021 in which Moreland would pay a $15,000 investigation fee, plus another $14,000 to fund financial literacy and education programs. State records indicate that the department put her on a $500-a-month payment plan for her $24,000 unpaid balance the following year; a spokesperson for DFI said Moreland still owes the state $18,500, and has paid $10,750 so far. “Ms. Moreland has missed periodic payments and payments have been modified to $50 per month,” the spokesperson said.
Many people who spoke to PubliCola for this story noted that no matter what approach a service provider takes with their clients, access to shelter and housing is dictated by the availability of shelter and housing—and currently, there isn’t enough of either. According to every estimate of King County’s homeless population, there are thousands more unsheltered people than shelter beds—perhaps tens of thousands.
Housing is even harder to come by, especially for people living in encampments. Under federal rules, service providers have virtually no ability to allocate housing themselves; instead, applications go through a process called Coordinated Entry that prioritizes people based on need. Private entities that don’t participate in the official housing system like Union Gospel Mission, can house people directly, but the housing they offer often comes with high barriers to entry, including drug testing, work requirements, and even dress codes for women.
If Burien’s elected officials aren’t aware of the fact that that sweeps don’t actually address homelessness it seems like Burien’s business owners are. As Schaefer, the former planning commissioner, notes, every time an encampment gets swept, business owners fill the vacant property with rocks. “I think the businesses know it’s not going to be permanent and the homeless folks are going to show back up at some point.” If most people were actually accessing untapped shelter and housing resources through private groups like Moreland’s, why would there be any need to keep them from coming back?